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In light of a Lake Wylie group’s recent proposal to York County Council asking for money to move a building thought to be an old schoolhouse and turn it into a local museum, we got to thinking ...
It would make sense that the primary mission statement of a local county museum would be to provide residents of the area with a venue where they can learn about the past. This is especially important in an area like York County, which has experienced an influx of new residents from other areas of the country, people who have no knowledge of our local history and may be interested in finding out more.
What did the Lake Wylie area look like in 1925? How did people get over to North Carolina before the Buster Boyd Bridge was built? What’s the oldest existing house in northern York County? When was the first dam built on the lake? These are just a few of the countless questions a county museum typically seeks to answer through its exhibits and programs. Typically, but not here.
A visit to our county museum’s website starts off with: “Go on an African safari, explore the galaxy or discover your own back yard through the many exhibits at the Museum of York County.” With that as an opening statement, it hardly portends well that collecting and preserving local history is a priority. And it isn’t.
In addition to a collection of stuffed African animals, the museum website goes on to tout a Naturalist Center, featuring “mounted specimens, skins, skulls, rocks, minerals and fossils from all corners of the globe.” Then there’s the gallery dedicated to the work of Nebraska-born Vernon Grant, “creator of Kellogg’s Rice Krispies’ characters Snap! Crackle! Pop!”
We’re not denigrating the work of Grant, dinosaur fossils or taxidermy. It’s just doesn’t seem to be the best use of space for a local museum, especially in the absence of any attempt to provide a place where visitors, residents and school groups can learn about this area’s past.
If we forget our past, we lose our direction, and museums should play a key role in ensuring that doesn’t happen. They inform us of our regional and local identities. The Museum of York County needs to dedicate a part of its facility to interpreting the natural, historical and cultural heritage of the county and its people through education, exhibits and special programs. We’d all be the better for it.